A ‘B-sides and rarities’ compilation is, by necessity, something of a curate’s egg. After all, there must be a reason why these tracks never made final cut. Yet, within the ‘reissue, repackage, repackage’ mentality, the odd decent B-side collection can be found. Sci-Fi Lullabies by Suede is a great reminder of their early material and Oasis‘ The Masterplan is a fine argument that had Noel Gallagher saved some of his ‘lesser’ songs for later on in his career, we may never had the horror of Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants.
One B-side collection however stands head and shoulders above the rest. 2005’s Push Barman To Open Old Wounds brought together all of Belle and Sebastian‘s early EPs for Jeepster Records, presented them in chronological order, and became, at least in some fans minds, their best album. Tracks like You Made Me Forget My Dreams, I’m Waking Up To Us and This Is Just a Modern Rock Song were at least the equal of the band’s best material and showed that Stuart Murdoch’s early creative water ran deep.
Eight years on, The Third Eye Centre is the Scottish band’s second such compilation, gathering together remixes, EP tracks from The Life Pursuit and Write About Love eras and several unreleased songs. The comparisons to Push Barman… are inescapable, and sadly they don’t flatter the new record. For where 2005’s collection sounded like a fully-fledged double album, The Third Eye Centre sounds a far more thrown together affair, with a fair degree of filler.
As ever with Belle and Sebastian though, it’s never less than a fun listen. The remixes that are scattered through the album are a big draw, for starters – while the wait for a new Avalanches album has now stretched to Godot-like proportions, fans of the Australian samplers will enjoy the album’s opening reworking of I’m A Cuckoo. Although it piles on the twee factor immeasurably, and somehow sounds less tidy than the original, it still succeeds in plastering a smile on any listener’s face.
Other remixes work best when they turn the band into the last thing you’d ever expect – the glorious Miaoux Miaoux transformation of Your Cover’s Blown into a slinky, funky, disco masterpiece, or Richard X turning I Didn’t See It Coming into the greatest song that Saint Etienne never released. Even when there’s no remixer overseeing things, the band are capable of springing the odd surprise, such as the unexpected detour into dub reggae during The Eighth Station Of The Cross Kebab House.
Other songs just work better than others, which is inescapable in this context – the wonderful Your Secrets (featuring possibly the quintessential Belle and Sebastian lyric of “I just had somebody tell me I was introspective to a fault”) and the gentle country stroll of (I Believe In) Travelling Light are up there with the band’s best material, whereas Long Black Scarf and Meat And Potatoes are unremarkable and pretty forgettable.
Then there are the curios, such as the skiffle-influenced Stop, Look And Listen or the joyful, frenetic Mr Richard – songs which the hardcore completist may well already own, but are likely to have slipped by the more casual fan. Therefore, it’s hard to deny that The Third Eye Centre is probably a fan-only affair and, indeed, a bit of a curate’s egg. Much of the time though, it’s a pretty tasty egg.